The fifth annual Mad Tea Party Jam took place in Artemas, PA, on June 16 through 18 at the Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary, assembling an epic troupe of inspirational visionaries, talented musicians and creative party animals. It was a weekend made magical by a storybook setting, featuring alluring decorations coaxing you deeper down the “Rabbit Hole” and into the love-infused small community that surrounds organizers, Taco and Elise Olmstead.
Four Quarters is a splendid piece of land, shaded by luscious greenery and cooled by the waters of Sideling Hill Creek running alongside; it offered a private, sacred place for us to call home for the weekend. The festival had three stages, the Gypsy Rose stage, the Main Stage or the Stone Circle Stage, named for the ethereal formation of stones that towered over us with silent power, and the Late Night Stage at the Barn, which doubled as the Workshop Pavilion during the day.
This magic that I keep alluding to, it must have had at least some part in protecting us all on Thursday, when we were hit by the worst hail storm that I’ve ever witnessed. While driving up to the festival, we saw a tornado warning, and though we figured that would bring a good bit of rain, no one was prepared for the winds that tore apart our campsites, saturated us with freezing cold rain or the baseball-sized hail that catapulted from the sky. While most were left with jangled pop-ups and soaked tents, no one was hurt, and that was the most important and wonderful thing. After the worst of the storm passed, everyone hugged each other, made sure their neighbors were OK, offered shelter, clothes and helped each other rebuild the camps. Taco Olmstead drove around checking on the campsites, and we heard stories of people helping the artists protect their art; in all, it ended up bringing us all so much closer.
Thursday’s music did get pushed a little, while the staff worked hard to restore order. We lost sets by Manor and Friends and Litz and Aqueous, unfortunately. Music started with a ’70s themed Big Something set. Fittingly, they kicked off with a cover of the theme song from That 70’s Show, got us fired up with “Disco Inferno” (The Tramps) with a sit-in by Jeremy Schon, of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, artist at large, and then an awesome “Frankenstein” (Edgar Winter Group) cover into “Pinky’s Ride,” finishing with “Fly Like an Eagle” (Steve Miller Band).
Twiddle took the stage at 9:45 p.m. and played until a little past midnight at the Stone Circle Stage. Their set began with the deeply funky jam, “Amydst the Myst,” filling the circle with their graceful resonance and picking up speed at the end. Their first set included “Jamflowman” and later “Indigo Trigger-> Gatsby The Great->Pachelbel’s Canon In D->Gatsby The Great.” The second set had “When It Rains, It Poors,” “Lost in the Cold” and “Frankenfoote” with Dino Dimitrouleas (bass, The Werks), the other artist at large for the weekend.
Broccoli Samurai kicked off the first late-night at the barn, and let me say, no one can spark a late-night dance party the way Broccoli Samurai can; they were followed by Spaceship Earth and Ascentient, and before we knew it, we were walking back to our tents at daybreak.
Friday morning was a hot one, but trust me, no one complained about the sunshine, after what we’d lived through. Music kicked off at 11:30 a.m. at the Gypsy Rose Stage with Of Tomorrow, followed by Definition of One, performing for the first time with their new drummer, Travis Jenkins. They kicked off the afternoon with “Depths of Perception>Sonic Tonic>Mantis Vision” (Brick in the Wall).
The workshops, coordinated by Project Bring Me to Life, also began at 11:30, starting with “Balance is Key,” a workshop on Indo Boarding, and then “Laughter Yoga” and “Healing Through Hooping.” You can find the full list of the amazing workshops and descriptions Mad Tea offered this year here.
The Primate Fiasco filled the Stone Circle with their brasstronica party. Pittsburgh-based group, the Clock Reads, took the stage at 2:30 p.m. and played a truly fun, funky day-set containing “Parallel Tubes,” a “Lemur Party>Spumoni Bomba” and a sweet “Car Wash” (Rose Royce) cover that really got people grooving. Broccoli Samurai mesmerized the crowds once more, this time during the day at the Stone Circle Stage. Big Something started us on their ’80s-themed night, and our second evening at Mad Tea, with “Burning Down the House” (Talking Heads) and “Love Generator,” “Megalodon,” rocking covers like “Sledgehammer” (Peter Gabriel) and “Dirty Laundry” (Don Henley).
Consider the Source did an absolutely mind-blowing Radiohead cover set. Tauk made me party: they fired us up, they soothed us down and we were dancing up a storm; it started with a cover of the “Rocky Montage Theme” and we knew, something was coming. Later, Tauk hit “Dead Signal,” “Mindshift,” “Dusty Jacket” and a heavy “Collateral” that slowed, with Isaac teasing the beat while Charlie, A.C. and Matt got weird with us. Friday late-night was a party led by the Desert Dwellers, who coaxed our souls; then Aqueous with a debut “Bananas and Blow” (Ween) and a “Kitty Chaser;” Lee Turley took us into the morning, at one point sharing the stage with Aqueous’ Mike Gantzer, to play the remix Turley made of AQ’s “Willy Is 40.”
Saturday morning came, and my friends and I were feeling the heat taking over our efficiency, so we decided to head down to the creek to cool off. The water was divine, offering the chilly break that we needed, while we enjoyed the beautiful rock formations people around us were creating. Manor and Friends got a chance to perform an unscheduled breakfast set at the Merptopia campsite. Music kicked off at noon with Mixing Numbers with Sounds. I was walking up during the first song of Litz’s set, and it was cool to hear their powerhouse vocals and rhythm from a distance, all but shaking the ground, “I Put a Spell on You” (Jay Hawkins). The Litz set attracted a large crowd and kept people up on their feet dancing; the group went into an otherworldly set of “Morning Dew,” “Exhale,” “Infrared” and my favorite, “Tomatoes” with the talented Jon Brady (ELM) on keys. Jeremy Schon sat in with Litz for “Funkin Problem,” adding his deep funky riffs to their jazzy sound, the crowd loved it. The Richmond-based Southern Belles pleased with their light harmonies at the Stone Circle Stage after. Aqueous played another great set, we got an “Origami,” “Life During Wartime” (Talking Heads) and “Strangetimes.”
Saturday night consisted of an epic Papadosio, Tauk, Papadosio sandwich. Papadosio’s first set warmed us up for the marathon with “Magreenery>Madre” then “Improbability Blotter” and “Anima Mundi>Wrong Nostalgia.” Tauk surprised us by bringing even more heat during their second set, with a “Horizon,” “Realize,” “Sweet Revenge,” but we walked away from the weekend unable to stop talking about the “Afro Tonic” with Jeremy Schon, and the hard jam “Tumbler” with Mike Gantzer. Dosio came back on stage again, this time with tracks like “Ear to Ear,” “Puddles for Oceans” and “Monochrome.” At the barn, the final Big Something set of the weekend, ’90s theme, had a slew of favorite classics like “Lithium” (Nirvana), “Closer” (Nine Inch Nails), “Zombie” (The Cranberries), “Creep” (Radiohead) and “Wake Up” (Rage Against the Machine). Chris Honsberger, Deltanine, took the stage after and kept us dancing until ELM took over in the wee hours. Electric Love Machine debuted two new tracks during their set, including the sweet new track “Crushing Time,” and they finished their set with the classic “Binary Soul.” Jouwala Collective closed the weekend with a set filled with spiritual electronic trance as the early morning spread over us.
The entire weekend we were in the presence of some of the most incredible artists, like Harrison Lance Crawford, Jenee Harrison, Bryan Bailey, just to name a very few of the talents we had the honor of witnessing do their work. A lot of the art was Alice in Wonderland themed, which only added to the definition of “Down the Rabbit Hole,” it was very easy to get lost in the art tent, conveniently right beside the main stage, admiring it all.
I’ll leave you all with the message that Elise and Taco sent us home with, shared on the Mad Tea Facebook:
I have a dream for you mad tea partiers. I dream that you accomplish everything that you have set out to in this life. That you find the person that will love you like you deserve and you will love them back. That you will find the friends that light your soul on fire and make all of your best assets glow and you will realize what a beautiful creature you truly are.
I wish that you slap plenty of bags
give some sloppy kisses
drink out of each other’s bottles
cuddle in each others’ blankets
and share every ounce of love you have in your hearts
because this is the mother fuckin’ Mad Tea Party Jam and I love all of you!!!”
Thank you all for a truly magical weekend!”